People who inspire: Nana Tela

Nana Tela & my month-old sister

Some people are fortunate enough to get to know their grandparents. I was ultimately blessed to be able to grow up knowing my great-grandmother.

She slept with me in my room until I hit adolescence (perhaps her presence was such an impact as I started having sleep trouble when I moved to a room upstairs). She was a healer: she’d sort out my sore muscles after street dance training, massage my brother’s belly when he’s had too much to eat, take care of my cousin J when he was feverish, sing to my sister when she was a baby so she can be calm whilst being bathed. My sibs, Jay and I were all lucky.

She would her smoke cigars and cigarettes in the laundry area at the back of the house, staring off to space. When I’d catch her there I couldn’t help but stare for a while. I’d wonder what she was thinking or what she could see when she looks out into the empty lots and the empty streets. She would talk about living through the Spanish, the Japanese and the American era. Was she reliving memories from that period?

She was an old lady but she was feisty. I knew so much about her from her stories, yet I never knew how she looked like when she was younger. Nor how she met my great-grandpa. Nor how she felt when she found out my grandmother was moving to England. I never bothered asking as I always thought there’d be enough time to explore her life, just like when you always put off visiting tourist spots when you live in a city. You think there’d be enough time as they’re permanent fixtures anyway. We had a running joke that when she hit 100 we’d give her a yellow-polka-dot bikini, like the song. I always thought she’d hit the mark and go further.

She passed away about two-three years ago when I was here and like any death in the family, I felt crippled for a while. This was the woman who gave me a sense of being. She knew every nook, corner and curve of my body. She knew who I was even before I did. She loved me unconditionally and she told me so every single day without fail, even when her health deteriorated, even when I moved rooms. I only wish I told her the same.

She would have been 100 today. I miss her a lot.

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